In "New Castro, Same Cuba," Human Rights Watch's recently released report on the human rights situation in Cuba more than three years after Fidel Castro turned sick and Raúl Castro was elevated to the top of the governing dictatorship, the authors four "illustrative cases" to highlight how baby brother has continued and refined the means of repression on the island.
Three of the political prisoners mentioned have been previous Political Prisoners of the Week on Uncommon Sense. The fourth name — "Jorge Barrera Alonso" — was a pseudonym, which Human Rights Watch used because the prisoner's wife was worried about possible retaliation against her husband for talking about his experiences. I think I have previously profiled this prisoner, using his real name, but out of respect for her wishes and the agreement Human Rights Watch struck, I have decided not to play detective.
Whoever he is, however, is deserving of recognition, because of his own experiences, and because of how his experiences illustrate Raúl-style repression. As the Human Rights Watch report makes clear, there are too many examples of how under Raúl Castro, too little has changed in Cuba, and the suffering continues.
To read what Human Rights Watch had to say about "Jorge Barrera Alonso," go below the fold.
Human Rights Watch on "Jorge Barrera Alonso":
Jorge Barrera Alonso had been working in a comedor obrero, or state-run workplace cafeteria, when one day his boss fired him with no advance warning, saying he was “not suited” for the job. Shortly before his dismissal, Barrera had started attending the meetings of an unauthorized political group that is critical of the Cuban government. He spent weeks looking for a new job, but was repeatedly turned away. Unable to find work, he took a job working for a vegetable seller who lacked official government authorization, and thus was considered illegal.
Barrera continued to attend meetings of the unofficial group and began participating in public activities raising awareness about political rights. In 2006, he and a friend were distributing copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the street. Police arrived, arresting Barrera. His friend managed to escape and called Barrera’s wife, “Hilda Galán,” to tell her about his arrest. Galán went to every police station in the city looking for her husband, but all of the officials she spoke to alleged they had not heard of him. Galán then went to file a report with a municipal complaints office that her husband had disappeared after being arrested by the police. She later received a call from one of the stations she had visited, saying that Barrera was in their custody.
Barrera spent five days in police detention, during which he was allowed one 30-minute visit with his wife and their two-year-old daughter. An officer stood by throughout their visit and explicitly warned Barrera and his wife not to discuss anything related to his arrest or detention, threatening to cut short their meeting if they did.
In the time leading up to his trial, Barrera was denied access to a lawyer and held in a small cell with prisoners who had been sentenced for violent crimes. The police informed Barrera of his trial only three hours before it was to take place. He was allowed to call his wife, who barely made it to court in time for his hearing. Before the trial began, Barrera asked if he could appoint his own lawyer, but authorities responded that they could not delay the trial and the state-appointed lawyers would serve the same function.
The trial, in which the state prosecutor accused Barrera of “dangerousness,” lasted less than an hour. His wife described the process as follows:The trial was crazy. First of all, they didn’t let him speak. The prosecutor spoke of things that I had never heard of—that [my husband] would associate with dangerous people, delinquents; that they were going to punish him in order to prevent him from doing something against other people’s property; that he did not work; that he did not study; that he was not a part of the revolutionary process. And he is not like that.
The state offered no proof and presented no witnesses to support its accusations, and Barrera’s state-assigned lawyer made no counter-arguments to refute the charges. The judge denied Barrera the right to speak in his own defense, despite his expressed wish to do so. Barrera was sentenced to four years in prison.
Over the subsequent two-and-a-half years, Barrera was moved to three different prisons, all of which were located a considerable distance from his home, making it difficult for his wife to visit him. In each prison, he was subjected to solitary confinement and other punishments for refusing to wear a prisoner’s uniform or partake in mandatory “re-education.”
To mark Human Rights Day on December 10, 2008, Barrera began to read aloud to his cellmates from a book his wife had brought him called Your Rights (Tus Derechos), which includes the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to his wife, whom Barrera later told about the incident:
Authorities confiscated the book and threw Barrera in solitary confinement.
Following days of solitary confinement, Barrera later told his wife, he was taken to a municipal court where he was tried for contempt for authority (desacato). He was denied the right to choose his own lawyer, the proceedings were closed to the public and conducted in summary fashion, and no evidence was presented against him except the accusations of the prison officials. His wife was not even informed that the trial was taking place. Barrera told his wife he had been sentenced to six additional years, bringing his combined sentence to ten years. He never received a copy of his sentence, nor any record that the hearing had taken place.
After Barrera was sentenced, his wife gave an interview to the foreign press denouncing his mistreatment and closed-door trial. In the aftermath, she said, prison officials cut off her visitation rights and phone calls with her husband.